Coach Tonya Cardoza couldn’t help but smile.
Temple’s (16-3, 6-0 American Athletic Conference) 63-53 victory against the University of Pennsylvania on Wednesday at the Palestra was the Owls’ 12th straight win and made them Big 5 champions for the first time since the 2010-11 season, Cardoza’s third as coach. The last time Temple (16-3, 6-0 American Athletic Conference) was the Big 5 Champion was in its 2010-11 season, Cardoza’s third year as coach.
“I’m excited, obviously, that we were able to pull out this win here,” Cardoza said. “We knew that we were going to be a part of the Big 5 Championship, but we didn’t want to share. We wanted to come in here and try to have it outright, and we were able to do that. So I feel good, they feel good, we’re really excited about what just happened.”
The Owls won all three of their previous Big 5 matchups, putting them in position to claim the title outright with a win against Penn. With four minutes, 47 seconds left in the game, the Quakers led Temple by one point, threatening to end the Owls’ streak and keep them from being named sole champions. Temple pulled away and went on a 14-3 run to end the game.
“It feels good,” junior guard Donnaizha Fountain said. “It means a lot for our team. We haven’t won the Big 5 Championship in a very long time from what I hear, and it just feels good to be able to win it as a team, to give our coach that good feeling, you know, we want to see our coach happy and she deserves it.”
Fountain worked hard to put a smile on her coach’s face, recording her fourth double-double of the season. She contributed 20 points, 12 rebounds and four steals. Junior guard Tanaya Atkinson nearly had a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds.
Atkinson’s physicality helped the Owls in the paint against senior center Sydney Stipanovich and junior forward Michelle Nwokedi, who are both 6 feet 3 inches tall.
Temple held the Quakers to 37.3 percent shooting from the field and, despite the size difference, outrebounded Penn 42-31.
“I think it helped me a lot only because I use my speed and then when I get in the paint, I can easily just slow up and use my body to create an easy layup,” Atkinson said. “The girls, they’re good and they know how to use their body too, so it was just a fight for a fight.”
Senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald and junior guard Alliya Butts also finished the night in double digits. Fitzgerald scored 13 and added seven assists. Butts made 3-of-8 3-point attempts and had 12 points.
“For us, it’s always important that we’re sharing the basketball and have multiple guys getting touches because the last thing we want is for one person to dominate the basketball because now the defense gets to key in on them,” Cardoza said. “I think when you have multiple guys that can score, it makes the defense really have to work.”
Temple will try to extend its streak to 13 games against South Florida, which is ranked 23rd in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll and in third in the American Athletic Conference standings behind first-place Connecticut and second-place Temple.
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CaptainAMAURAca. Follow The Temple News on Twitter @TheTempleNews and @TTN_Sports.